Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Post-workout soreness

Yesterday: 7.25 mile tempo run (3.75 miles at 7:04 pace), average 7:50 pace
Today: 7.45 mile recovery run, 8:39 pace

Yesterday I was VERY sore.  All over.  You may be surprised that running isn't the culprit.  Sometimes running makes me sore, although after about 13 years of it, my body is pretty accustomed to long runs so running soreness only occurs in isolated places.  This particular bout of soreness can only be attributed to flag football.

I play on a women's intramural flag football team at the University of Texas.  It is composed entirely of female graduate students, the majority of whom are chemical engineers, and we call ourselves the CHEetahs.  I talked a little bit about flag football in a previous post.  On Sunday, we had a regularly scheduled game, followed by a make-up game on Monday night.  For any given game, the total amount of active time is around 90 minutes.  We warm up for about 45 minutes before the game and then play for 45-55 minutes.  For someone accustomed to long runs, this is not a lot of time, but it is deceptively tiring!  The morning after a football game (or sometimes practice) I am often reminded of all the muscles I have in my body that do not get a workout when I run.  These were the muscles that were very achy yesterday; including but not limited to: my lower back, my shoulders, my neck, my butt, my outer thighs.  Additionally, on Monday night, we were down a player and I had to step into the role of rusher, a position I almost never play because...I am not fast.  I can run for a really, really long time, but my sprint leaves much to be desired.  Anyways, I gave it my best effort, and found myself repeatedly running at the quarterback, hand outstretched, grasping for her flag belt,  and slamming my thumb into something hard. I jammed my thumb pretty badly at least twice during the game such that on Tuesday morning I could not grip anything.  This made pipetting, an integral part of my research oriented days, quite difficult.
The action of pipetting, used to accurately
aliquot small volumes of liquid.  Notice the
 importance of the thumb.

On the upside, my body feels much better today!  My thumb has returned to a normal size and the majority of the pain has subsided.  The aforementioned sore muscles are hardly noticeable now.  Time really does heal all wounds.  So, this experience begs the question, how do we handle post-workout soreness*?  I have some rules of thumb that I apply to my own running lifestyle that have served me well over the years.  First, you can almost always push through muscles soreness and do not need to be concerned.  Muscle soreness is caused by micro-tears in the muscle fibers, which the body repairs using amino acids found in nutrients (or synthesized).  Additionally, a build-up of by-products, including lactic acid, can contribute to muscle soreness.  Muscles soreness often occurs after a hard effort, and its generally good to follow any hard effort with a leisurely recovery run, cross training or a rest day, giving the muscles time to repair.  Second, pay attention to all joint/bone pain.  While muscle soreness is a normal side effect of exertion, joint or bone pain is not and could indicate something more serious.  If you are unable to keep a normal stride, stop running.  If the pain does not alter your stride, back off and monitor how it affects you.  Is it pronounced on the uphills? downhills? hard efforts? when not running? when walking downstairs? when applying pressure?  This can help you identify what the source of the pain is and will be useful if it escalates to the point that need to see a doctor.  Third, light aerobic activity can alleviate soreness.  After two days of flag football, I was feeling pretty sore and the idea of a hard tempo run seemed awfully painful.  However, getting out for that run definitely sped up my recovery by improving my circulation, flushing by-products from my muscles, and stretching out my leg muscles.  I often find that a recovery workout is more useful than a complete rest day.  Swimming has the same effect for me.  Finally, embrace the ice bath.  It's not just folklore people, an ice bath after a hard workout really speeds up recovery.  Soaking the muscles in cold water reduces swelling and increases circulation of the blood to extremities (to keep you warm).  This means freshly oxygenated and nutrient rich blood is sent throughout your muscles, flushing the oxygen and nutrient poor blood back towards the core, where by-products can be removed. While it might be uncomfortable sitting in a tub of ice, I like to think of it as a badge of honor.  For example, you can brag to your friends about how tough you are.  Not only did you run 20 miles before 10am, but you sat in a tub of ice for 10 min naked!

So I'm hoping to be back to my limber self for tomorrow's anticipated hill workout.  I have a little break from flag football until Sunday's practice.  We are now in the post-season because we made it to the playoffs!  In case you were wondering, we lost on Sunday night but came back strong for a 34-0 win on Monday.

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a physical therapist.  I have no expertise in this area, only personal experience.

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